“Was it this killed off the rosary?”, asks architect and Aosdána member John Tuomey early in this engaging and enjoyable memoir covering most of the second half of the last century and the first quarter of the current one.
His question refers to the record player that his father brought home when economic expansion and television were convulsing many Irish households in the 1960s. “No more kneeling on the living room carpet, face down into the circled armchairs, for the nightly recitation of the mysteries. Sorrowful, Joyful, Glorious, all gone. The gloomy ritual replaced by the pleasure of listening to records”, he recalls.
Born in 1954 to an engineer father and a mother who encouraged self-reliance, Tuomey spent his childhood in Kerry, Cork, Leitrim and Louth, with holidays in Galway and Mayo. He studied architecture at University College Dublin and worked in London, Italy and Africa before returning to Dublin in 1980 to establish the O’Donnell + Tuomey practice with his wife and life partner Sheila O’Donnell.
The Irish Film Institute building in Dublin’s Temple Bar was one of their first big projects and they have since won more than 130 national and international awards, creating buildings of architectural renown almost every other year since 1990.
Now an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Architects and formerly a visiting professor in Dublin, Harvard and Princeton, Tuomey devotes five of his 10 chapters to his childhood and university idylls and three others to his years in pre-Thatcher London.
Two final chapters survey Dublin, where “almost every empty corner has now been developed, with one banal, bad and boring building after another” and where Docklands is “this over-shiny and under-inhabited twilight zone”. He says that the city’s core, despite being so well defined by the Royal and Grand Canals, “stands sadly empty of the sounds of ordinary life”.
He adds, “Dublin’s elegant streets echo by night and at weekends like hollow shells. Vacant upper floors lack the warmth that comes from lights on after dark. Something must be done to save the situation. It’s not difficult to imagine a liveable city, easy to remember living cities seen elsewhere, but there is little local progress to report, not yet”.